LUMBERTON — A light was shone on the campaign against sexual assault on Tuesday.
Mayor Bruce Davis proclaimed April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month and recognized efforts by the Rape Crisis Center of Robeson County to support victims and survivors during a ceremony at the Center’s office in Lumberton. The mayor was joined by Center Executive Director Virginia Locklear and Center board of directors members Sheila Beck, chairperson; Anthony Dial, treasurer; and Human Resources Chairman Stephen McIntyre for a proclamation ceremony at the Center’s office in Lumberton.
“It’s a pleasure to support this organization and the good work that they do,” Davis said. “It’s not only beneficial to the city, but to the entire county and we’re — we’re glad to do it, and we’d like to see a lot of other people join forces and contribute to it.”
The proclamation states that all community members play a role in ending sexual violence.
“NOW THEREFORE, BE IT PROCLAIMED, that I, Bruce W. Davis, Mayor of the City of Lumberton, on behalf of the Lumberton City Council, join anti-sexual violence advocates and support service programs including, but not limited to, the Rape Crisis Center of Robeson County, in the belief that all community members must be part of the solution to end sexual violence. Along with the United States Government and the State of North Carolina, the City of Lumberton does hereby proclaim April as ‘Sexual Assault Awareness Month,’” the proclamation reads in part.
McIntyre said the Center wants to “raise awareness (and) let people know people we’re here.”
“We always wanna address issues that affect everybody,” he said.
Dial, program manager for Child Support at Robeson County Department of Social Services, thanked the Center for its efforts to help survivors of sexual violence.
“On behalf of the Department of Social Services, we really appreciate all the service that you provide for the community, both for children and adults as well, and we thank y’all,” Dial said.
According to the NC Council for Women and Youth Involvement, 10,696 sexual assault clients were served across the state from July 2019 to June 2020, based on data reported by organizations receiving grant funding. From July to December 2020, 5,564 sexual assault victims were served.
“On average, there are 433,648 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States,” according to Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.
The Rape Crisis Center of Robeson County has seen a 42% increase in sexual assaults involving children from January to March compared to the same time in 2020, Virginia Locklear said. In 2020, the Center saw a 66% increase in all cases involving children and adults from the previous year.
“The Rape Crisis Center of Robeson County has the goal of enlarging the peripheral audience to unify the community towards working for the same goal of raising awareness around the movement to end sexual violence,” Locklear said.
But, the proclamation was one step in getting the word out, she said.
The Center will launch a social media awareness campaign in April featuring live videos on its Facebook page that share survivors’ stories.
The names of survivors will be changed for privacy purposes, said Locklear, who hopes victims will connect with those stories and reach out to the Center for help.
On April 28, the Center is participating in Denim Day by wearing jeans to educate the public about sexual violence, she said. The day seeks to address misconceptions, myths and victim-blaming in cases of sexual violence.
Denim Day stems from a 1992 case in Italy in which an 18-year-old girl reported that she was raped by her 45-year-old driving instructor. The court stated the jeans were too tight to be removed by the instructor while the victim attempted to fight him off, according to a report by The New York Times.
In 1999, the nonprofit Peace Over Violence held its first Denim Day in response to the verdict, according to https://www.peaceoverviolence.org. The nonprofit followed others in protest of the case, like women in Italian Parliament.
“The whole purpose is to wear jeans with a purpose to support survivors,” she said.
The Center encourages people to wear denim and send pictures so they can be posted on the Center’s Facebook page, Locklear said.
The Center continues to be involved in virtual services, and educational services that include Teen Tech Safety (technology and abuse), Teen Dating Violence, Sexual Harassment, Anti-Bullying, Anti-Human Trafficking, Healthy Relationships Workshops (consent, boundaries), and Engaging Bystanders, Locklear said. It also offers yoga and Zumba sessions with clients.
In January, the Center was recognized in the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Bulletin for its work with the NC Youth Violence Prevention Center to provide therapeutic sessions through painting and art for youth during the period of October to December 2020.
For more information, call the Center at 910-739-6278 or visit https://www.rapecrisiscenterrobesoncounty.com/. Additional resources are available at www.rainn.org. Victims outside Robeson County can call The National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 for 24/7 confidential services.